- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Senate, supposedly Capitol Hill’s more deliberative body, could take a lesson from Bob Goodlatte.

Instead of racing bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee argues that he takes time to try to build consensus on issues such as immigration reform and an Internet sales tax.

His committee’s jurisdiction is vast. It spans from the interests in Hollywood on copyright, to Silicon Valley on privacy, immigration and patent-related policies, to Wall Street on the government’s treatment of derivatives and antitrust issues, to Main Street-oriented issues across the nation, covering both large and small retailers on interstate tax issues.

Mr. Goodlatte, 61, also is the House’s main gatekeeper on immigration reform. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has designated Mr. Goodlatte as the point man on the issue, and any broad measure will have to go through his committee before it is passed.

“I’ve worked with the House of Representatives for 25 years, and it’s hard to remember a time when there were so many important issues before the Judiciary Committee at once,” said John Sampson, a lobbyist for Microsoft. “Chairman Goodlatte has always worked across lines to bring people together to work out tough issues. He really is the right leader for the committee at a critical time.”

A lawyer by training, Mr. Goodlatte isn’t interested in the headlines as much as he is the policy. He is rarely seen in front of the cameras touting the Republican talking points of the day, preferring to keep his profile low and to engage with his constituents and various parties affected by his committee’s proposals.

Since taking over the Judiciary Committee last year, Mr. Goodlatte has changed the way it operates. He sets principles for legislation and then holds numerous hearings to thoroughly vet the issue before introducing any bills. The pace of his methodical procedure can frustrate some, but the chairman makes no apologies.

“We want to make sure that we produce good quality legislation that has as much consensus as we can develop, and I think the way to do that is to get more dialogue, more discussion going about the issues,” Mr. Goodlatte said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Sometimes, rather than focus initially on legislation, it’s important to focus on what it is we want to accomplish.”

To that end, Mr. Goodlatte has established seven principles for how his committee will evaluate the Marketplace Fairness Act, a hotly contested bill that would determine how states could tax online sales. It has passed the Senate but has run into opposition in the House.

Earlier this year, the House set forth seven principles on which it would evaluate immigration reform. Both bills — the Internet tax bill and comprehensive immigration reform — were pushed through the Senate despite substantial opposition from the Republican minority, something Mr. Goodlatte said he wants to avoid even if it takes time.

“Chairman Goodlatte is incredibly disciplined,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Judiciary panel’s immigration and border security subcommittee. “If you don’t know where you’re trying to go, you’re assured of never arriving. It’s more important to him to get it right than to do it quickly.”

Immigration reform advocates say Mr. Goodlatte is in no hurry and the Judiciary Committee won’t pass immigration reform this year, if at all.

“The best way for a good bill to pass this year is for the president to use his legal authority to reduce deportations and expand protections for illegals,” said Chris Newman, general counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which is advocating comprehensive immigration reform. “That would compel House Republicans to come to the table in good faith.”

Democrats on the committee also have voiced frustration. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas in one of the overwhelming number of House Democrats who have signed the “discharge petition” created by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to force a floor vote on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in June. It was a mostly symbolic act designed to air frustration with the process because House Democrats knew they couldn’t get the 218 signatures they needed without Republican help.

“With Republicans continuing to block a vote on bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation, I took action to force a vote,” Ms. Jackson Lee said in a March statement. To date, 191 Democrats, including all 17 who serve on the Judiciary Committee, have signed the petition.

Seeking consensus

Mr. Goodlatte said he is not interested in blocking legislation, but only in finding consensus. He said the committee needs to reach accord on three issues: ensuring border enforcement, increasing the number of visas for highly skilled laborers in short supply, and determining legal status for immigrants — all of which take time with a spirited, if not divergent, Republican conference.

“Immigration is a very difficult issue,” said Mr. Gowdy. “Seventy percent of the policy most people agree on, and the last 30 percent just happens to be the most contentious piece of the puzzle. We’re working on that last 30 percent.”

Lawmakers agree that deporting the estimated 12 million people in the U.S. illegally is unrealistic, Mr. Goodlatte said, but giving people who came to the U.S. unlawfully a special pathway for citizenship is unfair — especially to those who are trying to go through the process legally, he said.

Mr. Goodlatte worked for years as an immigration lawyer helping people from more than 70 countries migrate to the U.S. through legal measures. He was representing clients who were going through the lengthy legalization process in 1986 when Congress passed an immigration bill granting amnesty to 3 million illegals. That action angered him then, as the thought of doing it again angers him now.

“One of my main criticisms of the Senate bill is that it gives a special pathway to citizenship,” said Mr. Goodlatte. “It gives them a legal status before the enforcement is up and it gives them things that people who work hard and try to get lawfully can’t have.”

Only when the nation’s borders are secure and enforcement is operating efficiently should some sort of legal status be granted to undocumented people, Mr. Goodlatte said.

In addition to the immigration issue, Mr. Goodlatte has spent this entire congressional session holding hearings on copyright reform with the goal of building consensus on which issues need legislation.

Even bills in which Mr. Goodlatte is personally invested receive no special treatment or are fast-tracked under his watch.

For the past 15 years, Mr. Goodlatte has been working to keep the Internet free from the small taxes commonly seen on phone bills. He has introduced legislation to make those tax prohibitions permanent — an act that has been reversed several times by the Senate, which has agreed to only temporary restraints.

Still, Mr. Goodlatte is working his Internet Tax Freedom Act again methodically through the committee. He has plans for a hearing and is waiting for the right time to move the bill, he said.

Bob is very much an individual that collects all the facts and hears all the sides before he makes his decision,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes, a fellow Virginia Republican who has known Mr. Goodlatte for more than 20 years. “Some people emotionally jump off and make statements they wished they could rein back in. I’ve never known Bob to do that. He’s a thinker, very principled, organized and focused. Bob always gives you your day in court.”

That kind of justice, the chairman said, takes time.

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